ONSTITUTIONALIST Fr. Joaquin Bernas raised a very interesting point in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday.

The Truth Commission, he said, “is being challenged by allies of former President Arroyo who had created two unchallenged commissions.”

He mentioned the Feliciano Commission that investigated the causes of the Oakwood mutiny and the Melo Commission that looked into extra-judicial killings in the country as the two GMA creations. Neither of the two bodies was supported by an act of Congress, unlike the first Davide Commission in Aquino I that was backed by Republic Act 6382.

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Bernas observed that “nobody with appropriate stand-ing challenged the validity” of the Feliciano and Melo Commissions.

In contrast, loud protests continue to hound the Truth Commission in Aquino II. Why? Is it, as colleague Bong Wenceslao theorizes, the name? Would it have calmed the nerves of everyone if it had simply been called a fact-finding body?

Let’s set aside the legal question and address the issues of necessity and lack of authority (“no teeth”) of the Truth Commission. Critics say that there is no need for a commission because its functions are already being performed by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

So what is essentially wrong about the DOJ receiving help from a special body? Why can’t a group, whether government or privately funded, be allowed to gather data, discover evidence and endorse the same to the DOJ for evaluation?

But the commission has no teeth. How could it possibly accomplish its purpose of ferreting out information when it cannot subpoena witnesses and cite them in contempt if they unreasonably refuse to obey?

What is wrong about this line of thinking is that it totally rejects the idea of a sense of patriotic duty. That witnesses will appear before the commission only if they are compelled to do so may be true for some but it is not necessarily so for everyone. Especially not during these times.

If witnesses had been reluctant to appear before investigative bodies in the past, it was partly because of the prevailing sense of hopelessness; that nothing good would come out of the whole exercise anyway.

Things are different now. There is renewed hope and faith in our democratic processes. There must be people who have stories to tell about huge scams who are willing to tell now.

The sad thing is that we may never be able to know or meet them because they say that the commission is illegal and powerless.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)